Soya think you know where your beans are from?

author: Ylva Johannesson

The attention given to the sustainability of soya, compared to say palm oil, is chicken feed, but it’s quickly emerging as an equally important topic to address due to its link to deforestation and climate change. Last week Ylva Johannesson, SRA Head of Membership, attended the second UK Roundtable on Sustainable Soya to find out more about the topic.

As Europeans we consume about 61kg of soya in one form or other per year and, with the recent rise in veganism, the demand for products such as soya milk, tofu and other meat and dairy replacements is only increasing. However, 90% of the soya consumed is generally used for animal feed, and the soya is embedded within the meat, farmed fish, dairy and eggs we eat. Global soybean production has increased 15-fold since the 1950s, with the US, Brazil, and Argentina producing about 80% of the world’s soy.

In 2017, major UK companies and industry associations, from commodity traders to retailers asked for government support in convening the soya industry to address growing concerns about the link between soya, deforestation and able conversion of native vegetation. With inputs from DFID and Defra, the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) convened the UK Roundtable on Sustainable Soya for the first time in March 2018.

The main political platform relating to soya is the Amsterdam Declaration, a series of non-legally binding political commitments that aim to support the implementation of private sector commitments on deforestation and sustainable palm oil and soya (signed by Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom).

Signatories of the Roundtable include Nando’s, Whitbread, Compass and Hilton Food Group, alongside major supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s, Asda and Waitrose as well as food manufacturers 2 Sisters Food Group. At present, the Roundtable is mainly focusing on sustainable soya supply chains/trade from South America (mainly Brazil), but topics relating to UK grown soya and meat reduction are rapidly climbing up the agenda. The key questions being discussed/researched are:

  • How much soya is imported/bought?
  • Where is it from (origin)?
  • Is it certified?

There is currently no common definition of ‘deforestation free soya’, however, WWF and other NGOs are working on a sustainable soya report, which includes a definition, due later in the year.

Considerable efforts have been made to halt deforestation, including The Cerrado Manifesto. The manifesto is a call for action to halt deforestation and  at the same time incentivise sustainable land management. So far it is signed by 70 companies. The Cerrado savannah in Brazil is one of the world’s most important ecosystems. It is home to 5% of the planet’s biodiversity, and the birthplace of many of South America’s most important rivers. Today, this savannah has lost 50% of its original area to agricultural expansion, primarily driven by expanding production of beef and soy, a key animal feed ingredient.

So what does this mean for foodservice? As a starting point, we recommend you look at your list of suppliers for meat, dairy and eggs within your supply chain, and that you ask your supplier about what type of animal feed they currently use. If it includes soya, ask where it is from and if it has been sourced sustainably.  

There’s plenty more to learn on the topic and we will continue to take part in these discussions to keep you up to date. If you have any further questions about soya or if you’d like to find out more about how to be a signatory to the UK Roundtable please email [email protected]

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